Friday, August 16, 2013

Numenera Cypher & XP Decks: Thanks, But No Thanks

For anyone who has been following my blog over the past little while, my excitement and enthusiasm for the Numenera Role Playing Game by +Monte Cook will come as no surprise. I am still eagerly awaiting my books due to what has been reported as a miscommunication between Monte Cook Games and the fulfillment company. Shipping apparently started a week later than intended. However, people were able to pick up books that were ordered by FLGS or if they were lucky enough to get to go to GenCon this year. In fact, I believe there was other swag available at the convention. It almost looks like copies of the leather bound edition of Numenera was available based on this picture taken during GenCon set up—a book I was assured I couldn’t get if I didn’t pay more than I already was for the Kickstarter. That would be a real bummer for me. If anyone has the extra cash, is there, and trying to figure out what to get me for Christmas….

Meanwhile, between Thursday and Friday this week, Monte Cook Games released the Numenera Cypher Deck and Numenera XP deck PDF files to backers through DriveThruRPG. I was intrigued by these, and I was under the impression these were an item licensed to an outside company. However, when I received them, I was surprised to see they were published under the MCG name.

Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew they were supposed to be cards to help enhance the game. The Cypher cards were supposed to make random cypher generation quick and easy while XP were—well, I dunno. I figured maybe they were little ways to add narrative detail and potentially bonus XP for players. Instead, the XP Deck ended up being markers for XP awarded to players. This is kind of neat. I mean, a lot of games recommend using tokens such as poker chips or beads, especially with an expendable resource that should flow rather freely around the table. It helps from not having to mark all over a paper. But, let’s look at it.

I am beating around the bush. The PDFs are a big disappointment.

First, they’re meant to be printed, but the order number and account number watermarked really detracts from presentation. So, the logical answer to that would be to buy a set of cards. Okay, I could see that. The XP run $2.99 for the PDf and $7.99 for printed card. Right now, you can get the PDF and the printed cards both for $7.99. There are 30 cards in the XP deck. The cypher deck is a bit bulkier at 120 cards and carries a steeper price tag of $7.99 for the PDF and $19.99 for the printed cards, or you can get both the printed and the PDF Cypher Deck for $19.99. I find it kind of odd that there isn’t a bundle available for the two decks.

These cards really seem to miss the boat. In both cases, you have a graphical backside. However, the prime real estate for branding on the back of the card was left bereft of  the Numenera logo. How do we miss an opportunity for branding a new product like this? If I am going to invest in some extra swag for a game, like I had fully intended to with these cards, I want that logo front and center. Just note, the logo for Numenera doesn’t show up on the front of the cards either. However, when you look at the promo image on DriveThruRPG, the logo is there. Is this another case, like with the core book that went out two weeks early to backers and pre-order customers, where the incorrect or incomplete PDF file was uploaded?

Looking at the front of the cards, the XP Deck is thirty Cards with the number 1 emblazoned on them in a blue, shaded circle. However, at the bottom, there is a line that shouldn’t be there. It’s as if someone move the circle, but another layer still showed part of ti. It’s glaringly obvious, even looking at it at only 100% magnification. In fact, it looked worse at 100% magnification than it did at 500%. So, $3 to kill my printer ink, waste paper, and get thirty colored pieces with the number 1 and XP on them? Thanks, but no thanks. And, if the PDF looks bad, why would I consider spending $8 for a printed copy?

Next, we have the Numenera Cypher Deck. Again, we’re not branding these things. Why not?!? Who made this executive decision? I’d love to know their reasoning. We get 20 image cards to give us an idea of what a Cypher might look like. We get 100 cards with text on them to give us cypher abilities and level. So, two decks we use in conjunction with one another? Mind you, these are cyphers—one use items that help our characters be awesome. One use and then throw away. At least one of the items looks like a pretty cool weapon of some sort that requires two hands to wield. Another is a drawing of a full suit of some sort of armor. Both seem pretty odd to lug around for just one use. Then, look at the art itself. There are crop marks all over it. The flaws in the art again get worse as we zoom out. The border has jagged lines instead of straight diagonal

There are no instructions on how to use the deck, so the assumption that you just shuffle randomly to use both decks a the same time is just that—an assumption.  The text cards include multiple possible cyphers per card. Each of them has an icon that is never explained, but it is possible to differentiate between aneotic and cocultic cyphers—those that are easy to use like a pill or a button versus those that are more complex and take some understanding. In that case, aneotic cyphers certainly seem to outweigh occultic in terms of sheer number. I have to look closer, but if there are 100 of these cards and multiple cyphers on each card, that certainly gives us at least twice the number of cyphers than are provided in the core book.

In short, the Numenera Cypher Deck and XP Deck were both clever ideas. They held a lot of potential. However, seeing their initial release via PDF leaves a lot to be desired. It was a good idea, but somebody failed the execution roll on these two, friends. Again, my hope is that this is all just another big misunderstanding and new files get uploaded, but it concerns me that this was ever released. I know Monte and his team have poured their blood, sweat, soul, and tears into Numenera. And, I still have very high hopes for it in the upcoming days, months, and years. As it stands, however, the cards are something I am going to have to pass on for now.